From Pastor Paul: Recently, I had the privilege of having an inspiring conversation with Wendell Horton about evangelism strategy. Wendell is the Pastor of Skyview Missionary Baptist Church in Fancy Gap, Virginia.
Paul: How long have you been making evangelistic visits? What’s your history? What got you started making evangelistic visits?
Wendell: In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention came out with the Faith Evangelism program. FAITH stands for Forgiveness, Available, Impossible, Turn and Heaven. I was reluctant to do that when I heard about it. Then, I heard about the transformation it was doing for a lot of churches. God just kept convicting me about doing the program, and I was making the decision for my people. I was kind of thinking in my head, “My people won’t do that. They won’t go out and do that.” Really, it was the pastor who was the hold up.
Wendell: It was me who was saying that. So, when God got ahold of my heart about it, I went and took the training they offered. I took another gentleman in the church with me.
Paul: Let me interrupt you. Where did you go do that training at, Wendell?
Wendell: Different churches, satellite churches, and churches that were already doing the FAITH Evangelism were used in order to train other churches.
Paul: Gotcha. All right, so you went to the training. What happens next?
Wendell: Another gentleman and I took the training. At that time, FAITH Evangelism had to be pastor led. You could do evangelism but you couldn’t call it FAITH. You couldn’t get the material (the discipleship material and all the training material) if it wasn’t pastor led or if the pastor wasn’t involved. I fully agree with that because in any church, whatever the pastor is for, that’s what the church will be for. I came back from training and trained several teams in 2000-2001.
Paul: So, you have been doing this evangelism strategy for a long time now?
Wendell: Yes, I think we just finished up our 38th or 39th semester (two semesters a year). In my mind (and being reluctant) I chose the hardest and most difficult homes I could think of. People were reluctant to the gospel. Maybe their wife had come to church, and the man had never come. I chose to think like that with every home I visited.
Paul: Walk me through that process in your congregation. You probably said, “Okay, I’m going to make a list.” You just thought about every husband or wife or grandfather or whoever wasn’t there at church? You made that list and that was kind of the way you started?
Wendell: Yes, I made that list myself because I didn’t ask for people to give me names. I knew the names because I was pastor in my home church. I knew the community, and I knew whose husbands had never come and that type of thing. I knew the people that had never been to church. I made that list myself.
Paul: What happened in the first year?
Wendell: At that time, FAITH Evangelism was sixteen weeks long. You did a semester in the spring and a semester in the fall. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t as bad to be at people’s homes after dark. It was a different culture then. We started in January, making visits in the dark, and it was eight weeks before I missed leading somebody to the Lord.
Paul: For eight straight weeks you led people to Christ every time you went into the community to visit?
Wendell: That’s how ripe our community was. I’d hear, “You’re the first pastor to have ever knocked on my door. You’re the first church that has ever visited me.” What I found was that most of the folks did not have anyone to sit down with them and tell them how to be saved, how to receive Christ. That was what I ran into over and over and over again. I was visiting folks beside our church, beside other churches, and I heard that over and over. Nobody had ever sat down with them and shared the gospel.
Paul: So, it wasn’t that their hearts were hardened against the gospel. They just hadn’t been asked. Somebody hadn’t shared the gospel with those people yet, right? Even here in the Bible belt?
Wendell: They were not church-going people, so they didn’t understand the language. Many of them were just hard-working farmers, hard-working people who paid their bills. They were good men, good community servants. I think that, because they didn’t understand the gospel, they felt they had no need for the gospel. That may not make sense.
Paul: Yes, it does. That makes a lot of sense. This is great! So, you get into a home. Let’s say you show up at a home that you had or had not planned on visiting. You show up, and it’s time to share the gospel. What was your go to tool in your tool bag? Was it a small Bible? Was it a Gospel Tract? What was it that you used to share the gospel with them?
Wendell: Really, there is a little thing that goes with FAITH. There are verses for each letter, and you study that. If you train with these points and verses, then it flows easy. The transitions are easy. So, really, there is nothing in my hand. Now, we may have some material with us, but during the presentation, I’m not pulling out anything. I’m just asking what we call a “key question”: in your personal opinion, what do you understand that it takes for a person to go to Heaven? We just let them answer that. Sometimes, it’s a “works” answer. Be good. Pay your bills. Go to church. Believe in God. There is a variety of answers. and we never argue with their answer. We might say something like, “A lot of people respond that way. May I share with you what the Bible says about that?”
Wendell: That’s our entrance: “Yes, go ahead and share.” Then, we present that man must have forgiveness. It’s available. It’s available in Christ alone. It is impossible to get there on our own. We have to turn from sin and self. We have to turn to somebody and that somebody is Jesus. If we do, Heaven will be our home one day. So, it’s really nothing in our hand.
Paul: That framework you can hold as tightly or as loosely as you need to in the moment, right?
Wendell: Yes. FAITH is a strategy. It’s called FAITH Evangelism Strategy, and I think with a lot of visitation, people can go out and do it for a while and get burnt out. It’s not working for us. We’re not seeing any response. I would bet you that, for 99 out of 100 times, they are going without a strategy. That’s why I like FAITH Evangelism, and that’s why I chose FAITH.
Wendell: There’s a lot of evangelism trainings and tools, but from what I’ve seen, people take a weekend or a Saturday and go to many kinds of trainings. Those people will come back and say, “Well, that was great”. However, no one wants to do it. When you are doing FAITH Evangelism, you meet one night for orientation; in the second week that you meet, you are going out into a home with a trained leader. You are going to do it that semester. You are not going to talk about it. You are not going to be out there randomly spinning your wheels. You are going with a strategy. On the way to someone’s home, there is somebody that is going to share their evangelism testimony (“Sunday school testimony”). We’re trying to connect them with a group in the church. Now, the way FAITH was set up, you connect somebody to a Sunday school. Ideally, it’s a FAITH team from every Sunday school class going out and inviting somebody their age with their similarities to their Sunday school class. That’s ideal. Typically, it’s hard for that to work because you do not have a team out of every class or your older teams are visiting younger people. We’re telling them about the opportunities that are there for them. That’s why I like FAITH. It’s a strategy. You’ve got a plan.
Paul: What about the Holy Spirit working? What is that role like? How do you recognize what is going on with the Holy Spirit when you get into the house? Are you always aware that the Holy Spirit is working? It’s a little mysterious, but it is a question that people have on their minds, right?
Wendell: Yes. I think they are talking probably about the Spirit drawing. How do you know where the Spirit is working? My answer is always, “I don’t know”. So, I need to knock on as many doors as I can to be there where the Spirit is working. Now, I think that is when success happens. Sometimes, you can tell immediately that the person has questions. It could be a crisis has happened. Someone’s gotten sick. Something has made them think, maybe for the first time in their life, about spiritual things, about Heavenly things. They’re allowing the Spirit to stir them; there are times that you arrive, open the door, and sit down with that person. That was obvious today in the home I went to. There was a home health nurse there. I think. before, he would have said, “Tell him I’m busy.”
Paul: This happened today?
Wendell: Yes. As the man saw me through the door, he said, “See who it is. Tell him to come in. He won’t hurt nothing. Let him sit here while you do this. I don’t care.” That immediately told me he wanted to talk to me. There was a reason I was there. I had a burden for him. I think the Spirit was working on my heart. If I’m at my study or I’m somewhere, and all of a sudden God placed a name on my heart, I better get to that home, that hospital, wherever that person is, as fast as I can. It is because of the Spirit. I know from experience: “Wendell, if you want to be a part of this, you better get there.” That is how the Spirit speaks to me.
What I found was that most of the folks did not have anyone to sit down with them and tell them how to be saved, how to receive Christ.-Wendell Horton
Paul: Thanks. I needed to hear that. Let’s say that it is the first Sunday they show up at church. They got saved on Thursday night. They show up that morning at the 11:00 AM service. Do they come forward? Is that something you do? Do you ask them to come forward to make a public profession?
Wendell: I do. I do. I’ll explain the process. Now, let’s just go ahead and follow through with this. Early on in FAITH, they were walking the aisle every Sunday. Now, sometimes, I don’t know what language you use, but you have to “wait them out”. I think they are trying to work through the process. They are thinking about what they need to do. Many times it takes weeks, months, or even years for them to make that decision public. They might come to church every Sunday faithful, serving, and giving, but for some reason, there is a reluctance to step out and walk down the aisle.
Paul: Twenty years later, would you have done anything differently as far as evangelism? Maybe you would have added something different or are you pleased with what God has led you to do in evangelism? You’ve been going at it for twenty years! Certainly, it is going to be fruitful. Right? When you go to bed at night, do you go to bed with a sense of, “Hey, we’re reaching people. There’s the fruitfulness.” Speak to that please.
Wendell: Okay. I would have to say that I am a strong proponent of FAITH evangelism because you actually go. There’s not a little book. There is training, but you are going to go. If you visit someone’s home, you are there with them when tears are flowing and the Spirit is moving. You see them surrender their life to Christ, and there is nothing like that in the world. There is no other feeling that compares to that.
Special thanks to Wendell Horton for sharing this practical evangelism strategy.